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Chapter2.gif (954 bytes)   How to Play Wargames

I have found that most wargamers play for a combination of two reasons: to obtain information or to enter a "game experience." The second reason is much the same for any type of gaming or recreational pastime. Obtaining information, however, adds another dimension to a wargamer's "gaming."

Wargames have been aptly called "conflict simulations." Most wargames are attempting to simulate some conflict, usually a military one. For this reason, many gamers, being students of history, attempt to use military experience to play the games most effectively.

At this point, I ought to state some basic assumptions, the first being that most people will play these games to "win." This is not always the case. Many gamers simply play for the experience, to "experience" the information. But if one is to play to win, one must understand the limitations of the games.

The major limitation of the typical wargame is that it appears to be a very accurate representation of actual conflict. The problem is that the games are somewhat accurate but they do have their limitations in the realism department. What follows will be a detailed dissection of how the games work for the purpose of being able to play

them more effectively, whether it be to win the game or simply to exercise it to see what the game is capable of doing.

The most common and perhaps the simplest type of wargame to handle is the one using a hexagonal grid across which thick cardboard playing pieces (representing the military units in the battle) are moved. The basic thing a gamer has to grasp is how to move the units most efficiently, and how to position his units so as to be able to destroy the opposing player's units. Destroying the other sides armed forces is usually the object of most wargames, but not always.

Remember that there is a complete set of rules for the Drive on Metz game in the back of this book. You may want to consult those game rules as we explore the techniques of playing wargames.

In movement there are two key things you must consider. The first is the movement allowance each unit has. That is, the number of hexagons it can move each turn. The next most important element in movement is the Terrain Effects Chart. In fact, when looking at a new set of rules these are the first two things you should check. What are the range of movement allowances in the game and what does the Terrain Effects Chart look like? The Terrain Effects Chart shows the cost (in movement points) to move on various types of terrain on the map. At this point you look at the map and you can quickly see what areas your units will have an easier time going into and which areas they will more likely get bogged down in. The Terrain Effects Chart also shows the effects of terrain upon combat. Generally speaking, terrain that is more difficult to move in is also more difficult to attack in.

In most games this is represented by the unit defending while in such terrain being able to increase its defense strength by a factor of two or three or more. For example, a unit with a combat strength of four defending in good defensive terrain would have an effective defense strength of, say, eight or even 12, depending on the severity of the terrain.

At this point, without even getting into the rules too deeply, you have an idea of how capable the various units (of both sides) are of moving about the map and their chances of success in combat in the various kinds of terrain. Now, the next thing you look at is the Combat Results Table. Almost all games have these. Some games have many of them, but it's simply more of the same thing. Most Combat Results Tables are based on the idea that the more combat power you have, the better your chance of success. There are usually two broad types of Combat Results Tables: bloody and bloodless. The bloody CRT generally involves a lot of results that have units being eliminated from the game. A bloodless CRT is one in which the losing units are usually moved back ("retreated").

Now you can start reading the rules of the game. The rules will make

a lot more sense because everything else in the rules basically revolves around nuances of moving and fighting with your units.

When a game is designed, generally the first things that go into it are the map, the values on the playing pieces (combat strength and movement allowance), the Terrain Effects Chart and the Combat Results Table. As the game is developed, various bits of what I call "chrome" are added. You must now search through the rules for these other elements since they will affect, sometimes dramatically, the use of the basic game elements (terrain effects, CRT, map, counters). You don't really have to study the rules in scrupulous detail. Once you have an understanding of what is supposed to be going on in the game, you should immediately set the pieces up and have a go at it. And this can or should happen 10 or 15 minutes after you start studying the basic components (if not sooner, or later depending on the size and complexity of the game).

Most games come with two or more "set-ups." One of these is usually the historical set-up and gives the position of the units of both sides at the beginning of the battle so that you may attempt to re-create the battle yourself. It is generally a good idea to set up the basic historical situation. This will do two things for you.

First of all, it will give you a bit of historical information, which is one of the reasons why you got the game in the first place. Secondly, it will give you an opportunity to pick some interesting situations that will help you learn by playing the game.

Once you have this historical set-up, you should take one section of the map containing no more than, say, three or four units on a side and proceed to practice the movement and combat as outlined in the rules. You should take only a small section of the map containing but a few units because you are liable to make mistakes. You will undoubtedly constantly want to restart the game as you find you have made mistakes so it is better to deal with only a small number of units.

Now it's a good idea to consider the possibility of adding a few enhancements to your game components. Take, for example, the set-up locations of your units. Generally, it's a hex. In a few games, the hex is marked with a symbol showing the unit that's supposed to go there or the unit itself has the hex number printed on it (if numbered hexes are used) for that unit. If this is not the case, you might consider taking a very fine-point pen (so you can write small) and write either on the front or the back of the playing pieces the hexagon they are normally set up on or, perhaps, even marking the map. This is so that when you go through a turn or two, either in testing the game or actually playing it, you can easily go back to "go" and start again if you find that you would have done something differently.

The biggest cause of problems is overlooking some minor, but critical,

modifications in the rules that invalidate two or three turns of your playing. Typical examples are games that have a rule whereby one side is limited in its movement for the first two or three turns of the game or where, on certain turns of the game, certain units on one side or the other have a bonus or where certain terrain features change in their effectiveness. These are all chrome elements which, quite frankly, often don't have that dramatic an effect on the game itself but which, when ignored, allow the players to be creative and play "their" way, rather than the way in which the designer intended. This is something that is easier to discover if you take the game in small pieces, a chunk at a time, as it were. Keep in mind that a full-size (22-inch by 33-inch) map sheet can contain as many as 2,000 hexagons. In most games using a map of this size, the number of hexes that will be most actively played over will amount to as many as 300 or 400. For this reason it makes good sense to choose a small area with a small number of pieces to test and develop your knowledge of the game before committing yourself to moving all those playing pieces over all those hexagons.

New gamers should be made aware of the fact (before they actually learn it for themselves) that the game does not have to be played the way the designer intended it in order to be played well. While most publishers make a fetish of at least attempting to come out with well-written and complete rules for their games, these efforts often fall short (often far short) of the goal. Yet, many games with truly terrible rules continue to be popular and widely played. The reason for this is simple. The average gamer is a rather intelligent person. Once the person has immersed himself in the basic mechanics of wargames (and we just reviewed most of them) and given the average gamer's interest (not to mention actual knowledge) of historical events, you have someone who can take a game with mangled rules but good intentions and turn it into what the designer intended. The players can and do change things themselves in games and get away with it. Most games are not even played strictly according to the rules. I have seen this happen many, many times. Yet the games still play. This is less likely to happen with a computer wargame, but even here, programmers are often astounded at how gamers managed to get around the way the program was supposed to work.

Depending on which way you bend the rules, the game will play better or worse for it. A really good game is usually dependent upon one of two factors: either very high quality in design and development (good rules to begin with that are accurately and easily presented) or simply good players who are interested enough and excited enough about a particular game to make it work and work well.

Most games are purchased and played on the basis of their subject matter (more than any other characteristic). If you have an abiding interest

in the subject of a particular game, you will, without much prompting, make the game do something interesting.

next.gif (1198 bytes)  How to Win

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1 - What is a Wargame

  Chapter 3 - Why Play the Games